Online is not always the best

Online is not always the best

Tourism Update article:  You can’t Airbnb your safari, say tour operators

By: Kim Emmanuel

25 Nov 2016 09:28 (UTC+2)

While online platforms may become competitors, tour operators believe they will not be able to compete effectively with the industry’s safari offerings.

While the launch of Airbnb Trips has made headlines, tour operators feel confident that booking a safari is complex enough to cement the dominance of the trade in this space, at least for now. However, some suggest Airbnb and other online platforms will no doubt become serious competitors in the future.

“You’re not going to find Airbnb in the Kruger National Park,” says Craig van Rooyen, Director at Tour d’Afrique.

Simon Stobbs, Business Unit Manager for North America at Wilderness Safaris, said while the ease with which people could access information on the Internet had resulted in more people booking safaris online, there was still a need for an expert safari operator. “This [information from online platforms] can lead to information overload and prospective travellers may find it difficult to make an informed decision,” said Stobbs. Seasonality, logistics and available specials were some of the factors involved in planning a safari that the tour operator was more likely to be aware of, he added.

Van Rooyen pointed out that clients from long-haul destinations, such as the US, were also not inclined to visit South Africa and stay in an apartment in Cape Town for a full seven to 10 days and would rather opt to travel around the country. Navigating an itinerary around the country, and specifically in safari destinations, using only Airbnb would remain a key challenge, he said.


Being able to provide a fully inclusive package was another aspect where a platform such as Airbnb was lacking, suggested Van Rooyen. Airbnb does not supply knowledge on how to get around the destination, flights to the destination, or the actual transfers essential for safari experiences.

Travel booked through the trade also gives travellers more protection. Van Rooyen said while he was unsure of the public liability Airbnb had in place, tour operators also had different insurance methods to protect the client. African Travel and Tourism Association CEO, Nigel Vere Nicoll, also has reservations. “I don’t think there are enough controls in place to ensure that the customer is going to get exactly what they want.” He said tour operators were responsible for quality assurance.

In Africa, where there are areas of affluence next to impoverished areas, Vere Nicoll suggested that travellers not familiar with a destination could book themselves into an area where they would rather not be.

While online platforms might not be able to fully replace the role of the tour operator in the safari space, Martin Wiest, Chief Executive of Tourvest Destination Management, felt that they might still become serious competitors in the industry. He said there continued to be a need to evolve and change the industry’s value proposition to deal with the digital competitors that were emerging in even greater numbers, emphasising the human touch that tour operators were able to offer.

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